Transcripts

Help for Homeless Veterans

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

13:35:44
So it's one thing to have a second home at the beach or anywhere else. But for many people, it's a far off dream just to have a first home. An estimated 12,000 homeless people live throughout the Metropolitan Washington region. Roughly six percent of them are veterans of the U.S. military. Nationally, veterans make up about 20 percent of the homeless population. And with congress divided over funding for veterans, the problem threatens to grow. Lauren Hodges visited a homeless shelter in Alexandria, Va. And brings us this story.

MS. LAUREN HODGES

13:36:17
It's dinner time at Carpenters Shelter for the Homeless in Old Towne Alexandria. Roderick Alston, a 38-year-old Navy veteran arrives just in time for supper. Alston lived on the streets for four years.

MR. RODERICK ALSTON

13:36:29
I've just been -- just been walking. Sleep here, sleep there.

HODGES

13:36:35
Prior to that, he served in the Navy from 1991 to 1995. He says it affected him deeply.

ALSTON

13:36:41
And a lot of things you see, drills, planes, war, so I mean, but I got a lot of it, it may...

HODGES

13:36:50
By his fourth year of service, he says, he had seen enough injury and death.

ALSTON

13:36:54
And I was going to reenlist, but so much had went on that I really just wanted to get out.

HODGES

13:37:00
So he returned home to Washington, D.C., but found it hard to adjust despite being raised in the area.

ALSTON

13:37:06
I worked with Metro for a couple years. I had a lot of ups and downs.

HODGES

13:37:11
Which eventually lead to unemployment. And for Alston and countless other veterans, no job means no benefits. Veterans can receive a VASH voucher which stands for Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing. But as Lissette Bishon executive director of Carpenters Shelter points out, the voucher comes with requirements.

MS. LISSETTE BISHON

13:37:28
You have to be employed. If you're unemployed, you can't access a VASH, which means that you're on the street.

SHEIR

13:37:34
Alston looked for two months before landing a job. For others in the shelter, the search takes much longer. That government request can force people back onto the streets before they receive adequate help.

BISHON

13:37:44
That's, you know, we're being pushed to get people out of the shelter within 30 days. You can't do squat with 30 days.

HODGES

13:37:50
She and Barker, a senior legislative associate at D.C.'s VFW or Veterans of Foreign Wars says it can be tough to get a voucher because the application process involves jumping through so many hoops.

MR. BARKER

13:38:01
There's already 11,000 that are authorized that haven't been used.

HODGES

13:38:05
And not only that, but in order for President Obama to keep his election time promise of putting a roof over every veterans head...

BARKER

13:38:11
The administration is asking for is 10,000 more.

HODGES

13:38:13
But budget battles on Capitol Hill complicate the matter, says Barker. As does the GOP's push to eliminate 10,000 of those available vouchers that haven't yet been used, though the Obama administration is fighting that.

BARKER

13:38:24
The administration -- they want to eliminate chronic homelessness among veterans, VASH voucher is the most flexible option that's -- the VA has.

HODGES

13:38:32
Barker says, another obstacle to getting a voucher stems from the difficulties veterans often experience when they return home.

BARKER

13:38:38
A lot of it is, post traumatic stress, undiagnosed traumatic brain injury, it's the hardships of being overseas for extended periods of time.

HODGES

13:38:47
And that can make it difficult to find or keep employment. Not only that, but...

BARKER

13:38:51
The government used to have policies that required completion of a drug abuse counseling course before they could receive transitional housing.

HODGES

13:39:02
That course is no longer mandatory. But obstacles still exist for homeless veterans trying to leave a life on the streets.

BARKER

13:39:09
And a lot of people who are chronically homeless are afraid of the big life change that would be to go through the counseling and to move back into their own permanent housing.

HODGES

13:39:19
For Roderick Alston, the decision to make a change followed a rather traumatic incident. He and a friend were walking around Old Towne and...

ALSTON

13:39:26
He was hit on Duke Street.

HODGES

13:39:30
By a car?

ALSTON

13:39:31
Yeah.

HODGES

13:39:31
The incident really brought home for Alston, how dangerous life on the streets can be.

ALSTON

13:39:35
It was just time to get myself back together. I figure, if I got on track, I could help others. I talk to a lot of young kids out here. And I tell them, you know, I always thought it was too late for me to get back together and it wasn't. I think now I know, it's never too late. It's never too late.

HODGES

13:39:53
As Alston walks down the hall to attend a money management course, children and their families retreat to their rooms to prepare for another day. For them, this is home but just for now. Tomorrow the governments 30 day deadline will be even closer. And the solution for homelessness will still be out of reach. I'm Lauren Hodges.
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